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Fashion

When you pack many famously thin and fashionable people into a confined space, strange things happen. Consider the pretzel twist seen on the crossed legs of front-row fashionistas like Anna Wintour (pictures right); Carine Roitfeld, editor of CR Fashion Book; and the dedicated fashion follower Sarah Jessica Parker, among others.

Yes, they cross their legs. But that’s not all. Kudzu-like, they hook their foot around a second time at the ankle, as if protectively. And why not? Sitting in the front row at Fashion Week, after all, is a fraught enterprise.

“Front-row mishaps can be legendary, like the male editor who sat proudly with his fly open,” said Patrick McMullan, the omnipresent party photographer. Men, in fact, are more likely to sit with legs uncrossed, as if courtside at the Knicks or claiming extra space on the subway. But the reason for sitting like a twining vine might not be feminine demureness.

“Often shows are hugely air-conditioned because once the runway lights go up, it is very hot,” Vanessa Friedman, the fashion editor of the Financial Times and a frequent leg-twister, wrote in an e-mail. “So when you come in you are cold, and twisting your legs warms you up.”

Then there are the space constraints. “The seats are usually pretty tight,” said Don Ashby, a runway photographer. “And if the models are walking close to the edge, maybe people are thinking ‘I want to make sure my legs are really in.’ It’s about taking up as little room as possible.”

Susan Kaufman, editor in chief of People StyleWatch magazine, agreed. “It is people making themselves compact,” she said. “When you’re going to a fashion show, you’re squeezed in and it’s never that comfortable. The average waiting time for a show to start is a half-hour. I think everyone has their thing, what feels comfortable. And if you have great legs like Carine Roitfeld or Anna Wintour, you can pretzel them.”

Indeed, this reporter has determined that it is not possible to do the twisted position if you are not thin. Very thin. It helps to have long legs, and know yoga. “For anyone who ever does yoga, it allows you to pretend you are doing something while in fact you are sitting like a bump on a log,” Friedman said.

Ashby added that an errant foot bouncing on a crossed leg and poking up into the frame can ruin a runway photo (especially if one’s soles are Louboutin red). It makes sense, therefore, that the more-seasoned spectators would try to lock their legs against a potential fidget. “A more louche posture would incur the wrath of the photogs who are always screaming at the more rangy members of the fashion tribe to ‘keep your legs out of the shot,’ ” said Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys New York. “As a short dude, I do not have this problem.”

The protocol is never quite clear to those whose day jobs don’t require going to the 40 or so shows that take place every New York Fashion Week. Recently, at the Victoria Beckham show held at the New York Public Library, when the photographers at the end of the runway shouted their customary instructions before the first model walked out (“Ladies and gentlemen in the front row, please uncross your legs”), the tennis star Maria Sharapova dutifully complied. But then she looked to her seatmate to her right, Anna Wintour, who kept her legs determinedly crossed. Sharapova then did the same (though she didn’t quite manage the pretzel).

The fashion tribe is notoriously judgemental, so it’s possible also that the pose is a sign of anxiety. Janine Driver, body language consultant and author of You Can’t Lie to Me, took a look at some photos of spiral leg crossings. A photo of Roitfeld showed an example of “implosion,” according to Driver. “This is the process of getting smaller and smaller towards the core of your body,” she wrote in an e-mail. “This could mean that she is nervous, stressed or even defensive.”

Referring to a photo with Roitfeld and Kate Moss, she wrote: “The ‘pretzeling’ of their legs may be interpreted as restraint, locking themselves in. They might be thinking to themselves, ‘This is going to be a long night.’ ”

Whatever the reason, McMullan suggested that it might behoove one to give sitting style some advance thought. “A sense of plan for those being photographed is a wise idea,” he said. “Strike a pose or suffer the consequences.”

Considering Wintour’s oft-pretzeled posture, though, Ashby pointed out: “If anyone could take up as much room as she wants, it’s her. She could even lie down on a whole row of seats and no one would say anything.”